We at dekantā have been in contact with an industry insider, Nakai san asking him to share with us his views on the many aspects of Japanese whisky. This time, he tells us what it is about Karuizawa that makes it so good. Let’s give him the word:
Japanese whiskies have become extremely popular in the last few years, as while many countries make wonderful whiskies, there is something very “Japanese” about Japanese whiskies. One can almost taste Japanese craftmanship in them.
Of those whiskies, the ones made by Karuizawa, a distillery which completely closed down in 2012 are perhaps the most prestigious. Popular both in Japan and overseas, Karuizawa used to mature its whiskies in sherry casks and release a series of high quiality bottles.
I myself have recently gotted an bit tired of single malts aged in sherry casks, they may very well be high quality but I do feel that the end product tends to be a bit too light for me. However, Karuizawa whiskies were different. Being aged for 10-15 years in the best sherry casks, giving them a thick ruby light color, their flavor was much stronger than your average sherry cask whisky. Even stronger than many Scotch whiskies, like Macallan for example.
One of the reasons a great whisky maker like Karuizawa went out of business was that in 2006, Kirin, the large bevrage maker purchased Mercian, the corporation which owned Karuizawa. Kirin has a winery and distillery near Mt. Fuji where it makes its Kirin Seagram whisky and the aim of buying Merican was to gain more expertize and increase the sales of its own whisky. And as a consequence it closed down its rival Karuizawa. The whole affair caused a lot of anger among many employees who had worked at Karuizawa and became a minor public scandal in itself. In fact many of them moved over to work at the new Chichibu distillery with Ichiro Akuto. That of course is one of the reason Chichibu has such a reputation.
Still though, sadly, making top quality product is no guarantee that it will sell well, and Karuizawa was already struggling financially. The positive part of this story however that both whisky lovers inside and outside of Japan have come to appreciate Karuizawa whiskies now that it is a silent distillery. Also, the equipment from Karuizawa was purchased, and is currently owned by Three Rivers which is setting up its very own distillery in Sendai. So, exiting things are happening.
Also, if you are a fan of Karuizawa and happen to be in Tokyo you might want to visit a bar in Ginza called Andre as it bought a pot still which was once at the Karuizawa museum. Some parts of this famous distillery therefore, still live on.